Gartenflora 1894, p. 225-229
Eduard Ortgies was born February 19; 1829; in Bremen. According to the wish of his father - who was a dedicated plant enthusiast and owned a large garden - he chose the career of a gardener and started an apprenticeship at the market garden of H. Böckmann in Hamburg on May 1st 1844. Having finished 3 years of apprenticeship he remained till late December 1847 at Böckmann. After that he was allowed by his father to visit the most renowned nurseries at Berlin, Potsdam, Magdeburg, Leipzig, Dresden, Erfurt and Hannover. On March 1st 1848 he began to work as an assistant at A. Henderson & Cie., Pineapple Place Nursery in London.
The storm of revolution that right after that rushed from
Paris over Germany and Austria (but caused just little waves
in England as 'Chartists Movement'), did not keep the young and
studious gardener from working diligently on continuing his studies
and using the rich possiblilities to augment his knowledge.
Van Houtte - enterprising founder of a market garden that became soon world famous and also founder of an illustrated gardening journal ("Flore des serres et jardins de l'Europe") that helped at lot to make the Etablissement Van Houtte in Gent flourish - was burning with desire to be the first one on the Continent to cultivate Victoria regia. The head of his plant cultures, Roezl (who later became famous as a plant hunter and introduced many new plants), had met Ortgies in summer 1848 in London. Van Houtte made him write a letter to Ortgies and ask him for a seedling of Victoria; also if Paxton was prepared to agree, he would employ Ortgies on very easy terms and make him head of the culture of Aquatics and Orchids.
Although at that time only four seeds had germinated and Paxton was assailed with requests, he at once agreed to this wish, pointing out that Ortgies, being keeper of the Victoria and raiser of the seedlings, had to be the first to receive seedlings. On April 1st 1850 Ortgies started to work for Van Houtte and a house for the Victoria was built according to his plans. August 6th the Victoria (that until that day kept in a bucket in a small pond) could be transferred to the new large pond, where it found all necessary conditions for prolific growth, and thus made quick progress resulting in a first blossom opening just 4 weeks later on September 5th, surrounded by a retinue of Nymphaea species in full bloom.
By crossing Nymphaea dentata with N. rubra Ortgies gained the first Nymphaea hybrid ever, that was illustrated at Flore des serres 8 t. 775, 776 by the name Nympheae Ortgiesiano-rubra Pl. **). A further success he gained later with the splendid Australian N. gigantea, that he was the first one to make bloom and set seed.
In spring 1851 Van Houtte transferred him to the office and trusted him with the German and English correspondence, the making of the catalogues and so on. Ortgies kept supervision of the aquatic and orchid cultures, on which he had insisted to be not completely bound to the office. At that time Ortgies made business travels to England, Germany, Denmark and so on, and was able to establish a large circle of acquaintances and friends.
In summer 1855 he was called to become Chief Gardener at the Botanic Garden in Zurich, a call he obeyed, although he hated to leave the Establissement and the Van Houtte family that had become dear to him.
His predecessor in Zurich - indefatigably busy Dr. E. Regel, who gained high honours and dignity as director of the Imperial Botanic Garden in Sankt Petersburg - didn't leave him an easy position. The Zurich Botanic Garden, weakly donated, was supposed to raise the necessary funds by selling plants and seed, without neglecting its scientific duties, since it had to provide the University of the canton and the Zürich Polytechnikum (only recently founded at that time) with the necessary plants for lectures.
Ortgies was not only able to achieve the necessary funds by trade, he also made remarkable profits that he was able to use for the renovation of the old conservatories, the building of new conservatories, water supply, a rock garden for Alpines, and so on. Considering his efforts, he received from the High Government on his 20 year jubilee the title of an Inspector and a considerable raise of his salary.
He was especially interested in introducing new or rare plants, and knew to use his contacts to overseas countries. To himself it brought just extra labour, trouble and sorrow; to the cash-box of the Botanic Garden it brought considerable winnings, and to the Garden itself a growth of rare plants (mainly orchids) and reputation in and outside Switzerland.
All the many deliveries by Roezl arrived at the market by intercession of Ortgies. From Zurich he ran a huge import nursery, held many auctions in London and had business contacts with the leading market gardens of England, Belgium and Germany. If Roezl was able to finish his life as a financially comfortable owner of a house in tranquillity - a fate that unfortunately only very few plant hunters have - he owes it all to his diligent and true friend Ortgies.
After Roezl, the deserving traveller Wallis applied for the
help of the proven agent Ortgies. Unfortunately Ortgies was able
to help him for just a few years, since Wallis soon became ill
and was ailing slowly until he closed his tired eyes forever
at the hospital of Guayaquil. After Wallis, there were Lehmann
in Columbia and Pfau in Costa Rica; both sent their most valuable
finds to Zurich Botanic Garden. In between there were Fuchs in
Guatemala, Garnier in Cuba, Gaibrois and Bruchmüller in
Columbia, and Besserer in Mexico who also used the agency of
Ortgies. It will lead too far to discuss the many introductions
of the named travellers that were mediated by Ortgies during
his 38 years at the Botanic Garden in Zurich. Today, when he
retires to private life and celebrates his 50 years jubilee as
a gardener in the circle of his family at Kilchberg near Zurich,
he will look back with satisfaction on a life full of trouble
and work, to which a friendly evening of life may follow!
** The illustration has the title Nymphaea hybrida Ortgiesii V.H. But in the text on page 64 (written by J.E. Planchon) it says Nymphaea Ortgiesiano-rubra and this later name is to be found later everywhere; the illustration is also quoted in Icones Plantarum by Pritzel (but Van Houtte declared as author). Planchon regarded N. dentata at the garden of Van Houtte as different to N. dentata Hooker and called it N. Ortgiesiana, thus the name Ortgiesiano-rubra.
Editor's note: Eduard Ortgies died in 1916.